Nell’s grandfather is a compulsive gambler, and integral to the plot of The Old Curiosity Shop is that he wagers so that Nell will never want for anything. At one point he even steals the money Nell has been saving from her small income.
F. O. C. Darley. Illustrations from the Household Edition of the Works of Charles Dickens.
George Cattermole collaborated with Hablot Knight Browne on the illustrations for Master Humphrey’s Clock. Cattermole primarily specialized in interior and exterior architectural illustration. This watercolor is from an album of his sketches.
George Cattermole. Watercolor drawing from the Cattermole Album, Elkins Collection
American painter Thomas Sully (1783–1872) had a lifelong passion for the theatre and literature. This portrayal of Nell was painted soon after the parts of The Old Curiosity Shop began appearing in the United States.
Thomas Sully painting in the Rare Book Department, 1841
Dickens writes, “I had it always in my fancy to surround the lonely figure of the child with grotesque and wild, but not impossible companions, and to gather about her . . . associates as strange and uncongenial as the grim objects that are about her bed. . . .“
Ernest Nister. Pictures from Dickens with Readings. New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., 1895
Dickens describes the scenery along the road out of London: “Damp rotten houses, many to let, many yet building, many half-built and mouldering away- lodgings, where it would be hard to tell which needed pity most, those who let or those who came to take. . . .”
F. G. Lewin. Characters from Charles Dickens. London: Chapman and Hall, 1912.
As Nell and her grandfather walk among the graves of children we sense Dickens working through his grief in the narrator’s comments: “What a bright and happy existence those who die young are borne, and how in death they lose the pain of seeing others die around them.”
Felix O. C. Darley
In this etching, not part of the original publication, Little Nell is flanked by her grandfather and the narrator of Master Humphrey’s Clock, with angels nearby, ready to take her up to heaven.
Hablot K. Browne. Etching of Little Nell. London: Chapman and Hall, 1848.